Over the last six weeks, Centennial field hockey coach Natalie Fyock has begun figuring out how to enjoy the road in more ways than one.
In a figurative sense, the first-year varsity coach has started down the “road” to building her own varsity program — putting in her own system and developing a foundation for success this year and beyond.
But it’s the actual road, the one she drives on 90 minutes each way to get to games and practices, that Fyock has truly learned to embrace.
“At first, the long drive was pretty hard, and I found myself getting a bit mentally defeated by it,” said Fyock, who teaches preschool and lives in Virginia. “But now I’ve figured out that the time in the car can be a good thing. On the way there, I have an hour-and-a-half to get hyped and ready for practice or our game. Then on the way back, I get a chance to digest everything that we just did.
“In a weird way, I actually think it’s helping me be a better coach.”
Fyock’s enthusiasm and efforts to get herself into a field-hockey state of mind haven’t been lost on her players.
“She has a personality that makes everyone look forward to practice, look forward to just being together,” said senior goalie Bridget Thompson. “You can see her excitement every time we come to the field, and that filters into the team. I feel like it’s the perfect balance between us having fun and also getting better every day.”
So far, having fun together has translated into unparalleled results for Centennial during this shortened fall season. Through eight games, the Eagles have not only won every contest but done so while outscoring their opposition by a 71-0 margin.
A season-opening 11-0 victory at home against Atholton on March 8 got things rolling, and Fyock’s squad has only built momentum in the weeks since.
“I think in the back of our heads we came in knowing that there was a good chance we would be at the top of the pool we were in, but I think winning that game the way we did really got everyone excited,” sophomore Hayley Harris said. “We had so many different players contribute, and we played so well together. It helped us realize we had a lot of potential.”
Before this season, the county teams were split into two divisions. The six programs with JV teams this spring were grouped together and the remaining six without them made up the other division.
Centennial, with not enough players to field a JV team, joined the second division alongside Atholton, Hammond, Long Reach, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake. The Eagles play each of those five teams twice.
There was some initial disappointment among Centennial’s players about not being able to compete against the county’s top programs — Marriotts Ridge, Glenelg, River Hill and Mt. Hebron, all of which are in Division A and have a won a county title in the last decade. Over time, however, they’ve figured out how to still make the most of the situation.
“As a competitor, sure, you miss some of those challenges of facing the better teams,” Thompson said. “Instead, though, we’ve just tried to challenge ourselves to keep improving. More than winning, we set smaller goals for every game that are all about making sure we get better.”
It all starts with Fyock, who was hired as coach just one day before the official start of tryouts. The 2016 Mt. Hebron graduate, a Howard County field hockey All-Decade performer during her time with the Vikings, has not been shy about jumping in headfirst and making the most of this season.
She says it’s a major priority to make sure this year is special for her seven seniors, but just as important to maximize the growth of her underclassmen. It’s in that light that each member of the 26-player roster has seen playing time in over half the games so far.
Whether it’s putting in new formations or emphasizing a particular fundamental she wants her players to work on, Fyock said there are no shortage of learning opportunities.
“One example is in games early on this season we focused a lot on transfers, saying ‘Let’s go out and try to get three pretty transfers every quarter.’ And we made a point of having them pass it back and around before going for the goal,” Fyock said. “Now it’s one of those things that just happens naturally. And I think that’s my favorite thing about this group … they are all so coachable.”
With the spread-the-ball-around approach, it’s no surprise the scoring has been so balanced for the team. Centennial currently has seven players with seven or more points — Helen Baldy (40 points), Jamie Cole (24), Harris (22), Abby Cudzilo (21), Alaina Kelly (20), Lily Sullivan (10) and Bailey Carpenter (7) — and a total of 13 players with at least one goal.
Perhaps just as impressive as the offensive output, is the team’s stinginess on the defensive end. Led by Thompson in goal to go along with senior center back Nicole Ouellette and senior captain Elizabeth Stroud in front of her, the Eagles have yet to be scored upon.
It’s a streak that has even earned Thompson a new nickname.
“They’ve started calling me ‘goose egg,’” she said with a laugh. “In all seriousness, though, keeping the shutout streak alive is something we are striving for. We know these teams the second time around are going to be playing even harder, but I have so much confidence in my defense that I think we can do it.”
Following Wednesday’s 10-0 win over Hammond, Centennial has just two games remaining — against Wilde Lake (5-3) on April 7 and Long Reach (2-6) on April 15. Harris, a key part of the team’s young core, said just as important as closing with another two victories is continuing to “build chemistry and confidence” so the team can carry over this success into next fall when it will likely return to a more normalized — and more difficult — schedule.
But regardless of what happens over these final two weeks, Fyock reiterated that she’s just happy to have had this opportunity to come along for the ride.
“After a crazy first couple weeks, having to get a handle on everything from the commute to taking over a new program with little time to prepare, it honestly has been better than I could have ever imagined,” Fyock said. “The girls have been flexible with me, giving me as much feedback as I give them sometimes. And I love that. We are in this together.